As a new parent, one of the most important things you can do for your newborn is to establish a healthy sleep routine. Sleep is essential for your baby’s growth and development (and mummas sanity), but it can also be one of the most challenging aspects of caring for a newborn. When I first had my son his sleep routine was the biggest trigger for my Postpartum Anxiety and still to this day when he has a leap I have been known to get very anxious again. Learning that newborns don’t arrive knowing how to put themselves to sleep but it’s something that we can assist them by creating healthy sleep routines was a life safer in my household. But I do want to preface this blog with saying that my baby had no colic or other health concerns so this made things a lot easier for me to start these routines.
In this blog, we’ll discuss how to unlock the secret to a healthy night’s sleep for your newborn by establishing a sleep routine and understanding their sleep cycles.
What is a Sleep Routine?
A sleep routine is a set of activities that you do with your baby before bedtime. This can include things like a warm bath, a story, or a nursery rhyme. The purpose of a sleep routine is to signal to your baby that it’s time for sleep and to create a sense of predictability and comfort. By establishing a consistent sleep routine, you can help your baby fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for longer periods of time.
Newborn Sleep Cycles
Newborns have shorter sleep cycles than adults, and they spend more time in active sleep (also known as REM sleep). Active sleep is when the brain is most active and the body is moving more, while quiet sleep is when the brain is less active and the body is still. Newborns typically spend about 50% of their sleep time in active sleep and 50% in quiet sleep. The length of a newborn’s sleep cycle is typically around 50-60 minutes. I wish that I had known this when TJ was a newborn, he was a loud sleeper, even the nurses in hospital couldn’t believe how loud he was. The issue was I thought he was constantly waking up and I would try to rock him back to sleep but he was probably just in active sleep.
Establishing a Sleep Routine for Your Newborn
The first step in establishing a sleep routine for your newborn is to create a sleep-friendly environment. This means keeping the room cool and dark, using a white noise machine (check out this one on my 10 Must-Haves List) to drown out any distracting sounds, and using a firm and flat sleep surface, such as a crib or bassinet.
Once you have created a sleep-friendly environment, it’s time to start your sleep routine. Keep in mind that newborns have a shorter awake time than older babies, so you may need to adjust your routine accordingly. Here is an example of a simple sleep routine that you can modify to fit your baby’s needs:
Bath time: Give your baby a warm bath to help them relax and get ready for sleep. We use this bath lotion with lavender to help with calming down for the night.
Massage: After the bath, give your baby a gentle massage using a baby-safe oil or lotion. This can help soothe your baby and create a sense of calm. If your baby was born in winter like my one make sure you warm up the lotion really well in your hands first.
Nappy Change: Change your baby’s nappy before putting them down to sleep.
Pyjamas: Dress your baby in comfortable pajamas that are appropriate for the temperature of the room. Again TJ was born in winter and he was really sensitive to the temperature and he loves a Bonds Wondersuit, they are the old classic PJ for a reason, they are warm, soft and cosy.
Swaddle / Sleep Sack: Babies like to be snug when sleeping as this reminders them of being inside your body. It also helps with prevent their startle reflex from waking them during the night. Now if your baby is a swaddle houdini like mine you might want to look into a sleep sack. This was one fo the biggest changes in helping him sleep longer because he wasn’t wiggling his way out of the swaddle, getting cold, and waking up. There are different types of swaddles depending on the preferred style your baby likes to sleep so check if they are are arms down or arms up sleeper before choosing the sleep sack.
Feeding: If your baby is hungry, offer a feeding before putting them down to sleep. Keep in mind that it’s best to avoid feeding your baby right before sleep, as this can create a dependency on feeding to fall asleep, that being said if it works for you then go with it! It’s only a problem when it no longer serves your family. I still feed TJ to sleep at night and its one of my favourite times during the day.
Storytime: Read a story or sing a lullaby to your baby to help them wind down and prepare for sleep.
Put your baby down to sleep: Place your baby in their crib or bassinet while they are drowsy but still awake. This can help them learn to fall asleep on their own and establish healthy sleep habits. I only found that we could do this after about 4 months though once though and he did get a little restless while trying to learn to get himself to sleep, I didn’t let him ‘cry it out’ but he would make some noises when going down for his day naps.
Understanding Your Newborn’s Sleep Patterns
It’s important to understand your newborn’s sleep patterns and adjust your routine accordingly. Newborns typically sleep for 16-17 hours a day, but this sleep is broken up into short periods of time. As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns will change, and they will start to consolidate their sleep into longer periods. It’s also important to note that newborns may wake up frequently during the night to feed. This is normal and necessary for their growth and development.
Newborns do not have a regular sleep-wake cycle like adults. Instead, they have different stages of sleep, including active sleep and quiet sleep. Active sleep is characterised by rapid eye movement (REM), twitching, and irregular breathing, while quiet sleep is characterised by slow, regular breathing and no movement. During active sleep, your baby may wake up more easily, while during quiet sleep, they may sleep more soundly.
As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns will change, and they will start to consolidate their sleep into longer periods. This is a natural process that happens as their brains and bodies mature. By understanding your newborn’s sleep patterns and adjusting your routine accordingly, you can help your baby develop healthy sleep habits that will benefit them for years to come.
As they say hindsight is a beautiful thing so in hindsight if I could go back in time knowing what I do now about creating a healthy sleep routine for my newborn I would stress less. As my husband said he will sleep, it’s just sometimes those nights are very long between sleeps. I would also look at starting a sleep routine sooner, the simple processes really seemed to make big changes in how much sleep was getting and how easy he was to put to sleep. Also the biggest lesson for me was also realising that he was a little person and he is growing quickly so rather than getting anxious when his sleep patterns are changing I just needed to try different things, work out what was working and implement that until he had his next leap.